Controlling Arms and
Stemming the Proliferation of
Weapons of Mass Destruction

A critical priority for the United States is to stem the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction and their missile delivery systems. Countries' weapons programs, and their levels of cooperation with our nonproliferation efforts, will be among our most important criteria in judging the nature of our bilateral relations.... Arms control can help reduce incentives to initiate attack; enhance predictability regarding the size and structure of forces, thus reducing fear of aggresive intent; reduce the size of national defense industry establishments and thus permit the growth of more vital, nonmilitary industries; ensure confidence in compliance through effective monitoring and verification; and, ultimately, contribute to a more stable and calculable balance of power.

Arms control and nonproliferation measures are an integral part of U.S. security strategy. These measures, designed to reduce existing military threats and prevent new ones from arising, are an essential complement to our military programs to respond to such threats, allowing the United States to maintain greater security at lower cost. Today, as a result of arms reduction and nonproliferation measures already undertaken, thousands of nuclear warheads once aimed at the United States have been removed from their launchers and shipped to dismantlement plants, and a wide range of countries are not armed with weapons of mass destruction that might otherwise have acquired such weapons. The Clinton Administration is committed to seizing the opportunities of the post-Cold War period-and responding to its dangers-by building a still broader and more effective international arms reduction and nonproliferation regime. In that effort, science and technology (S&T) will be critical.

The Arms Control and
Nonproliferation Imperative

Ever since Bernard Baruch presented the U.S. plan for international control of atomic power as a choice "between the quick and the dead," the U.S. Government has recognized the fundamental importance of limiting the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction and other advanced weaponry. The United States seeks stabilizing reductions in nuclear arms and arms limitations and confidence-building measures that contribute to global and regional security. We seek to prevent additional countries from acquiring chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and their missile delivery systems and to promote restraint in transfers of conventional arms that may be destabilizing or dangerous to international peace.

With the end of the Cold War, these efforts have become even more essential-and even more complex. The end of Cold War confrontation has enabled historic reductions in nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction, and the specter of nuclear annihilation has receded dramatically. At the same time, political fragmentation and economic disarray in the former Soviet Union, along with the worldwide diffusion of technology, raise new proliferation risks and complications for arms control.

Despite the large-scale arms reductions now under way, nuclear weapons remain a central threat to U.S. security. Russia is expected to maintain a formidable nuclear force with thousands of nuclear weapons into the foreseeable future. Britain, France, and China also acknowledge having substantial nuclear forces, and Israel, India, and Pakistan are believed to have nuclear weapons or the capability to assemble them very rapidly.

All told, some twenty nations have or are seeking weapons of mass destruction, and many are also seeking the missiles to deliver them. In addition, a wide range of nations have significant conventional arsenals that could pose threats to regional security. Limiting these threats, to the extent possible, is a top national security priority.

Nuclear weapons, offering the possibility of destroying an entire city instantaneously with a single bomb, pose a particularly devastating threat. The primary technical barrier limiting the spread of nuclear weapons is limits on access to the nuclear materials needed to make them-plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU), both of which require a significant technical effort to produce. Hence, the rising incidence of nuclear smuggling poses an urgent proliferation threat that must be addressed. Unfortunately, chemical and biological weapons are also within the reach of many nations, subnational groups, and even terrorists. Chemical weapons, including nerve gas, blister and blood agents, and others, require significantly less technical sophistication to produce and employ than nuclear weapons. Because chemical protective equipment is highly effective, chemical weapons are most effective against civilians or unprepared troops. The quantities of chemical agent required are relatively small when compared to industrial production of similar commercial chemicals, raising significant complications for control and detection. Biological weapons-which include both living organisms such as bacteria and viruses and the poisons they produce, known as toxins-can also pose a devastating threat and are difficult to detect, either on the battlefield or in production. Like chemical weapons, biological weapons are easier to acquire than nuclear arms. Today, genetic engineering and other new technologies offer new ways to produce dangerous organisms and toxins.

Controlling technologies and materials for weapons of mass destruction is complicated by the fact that a significant fraction of the technology and much of the equipment required for a weapons program is "dual use," with both military and civilian applications. Peaceful nuclear power programs, for example, can provide part of the infrastructure and expertise needed for establishing a nuclear weapons program. Electronic devices used to trigger nuclear bombs are also used in oil exploration. Chemicals used to make nerve agents are also used to make plastics and to process foodstuffs, and facilities producing pesticides, insecticides, and fire-retardant chemicals could be modified to produce chemical agents. A modern pharmaceutical industry could potentially provide the facilities and expertise needed to produce biological warfare agents. High-speed computers used for everything from climate modeling to designing airliners can also be used to design nuclear bombs. High technologies are increasingly difficult to control, due to advances in global scientific literacy and the worldwide mobility of people and information.

Given these realities, arms control and nonproliferation efforts must be firmly based in the technical realities of a broad spectrum of modern technologies. It is essential to focus efforts on key restraints that will genuinely constrain military threats to U.S. and international security while ensuring that the United States and its allies can maintain the robust defense forces they need and allowing trade in key civilian technologies that are the engines of economic growth.